After Dresden, Amanda and I needed a bit of a break. We spent a few days in Damme, doing laundry, riding bikes, eating Grünkohl and sleeping for free at my apartment. Refreshed and in clean clothing, we took the train to Cologne on Gründonnerstag, Maundy Thursday, (literally Green Thursday) and stayed until the Saturday before Easter.
Cologne is a great city. It sits on the Rhine and is literally filled with culture. Every time you step off of the bus or come up from the subway, you find yourself standing before some relic that looks like a chess pieces. There are churches, towers, walls, all ancient, all beautiful. Although there is something to see everywhere, it’s most famous tourist attraction is the gorgeous Gothic cathedral, the Kölner Dom. The train station literally sits on the Cathedral Square, or Domplatz, so even if you have just 20 minutes between trains, you can take in one of the Europe’s best attractions. The Dom supposedly houses the remains of the Three Wise Men, making it the 3rd most visited pilgrimage site in Europe after Rome and Santiago de Compostela. The Dom tower also boasts an excellent view. For just 6 Euro (3 for students!) you can climb each of the 509 steps to the top for a great view of the city. Ticketholders also have access to the museum, which houses all of the cathedral’s treasures. Those who do not want to make the climb can still visit the Cathedral, take photos and participate in mass.
I often get bored looking at churches in Europe. It becomes an “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all affair.” Not in Cologne. Amanda and I were at the Dom at least four times in three days. It is seriously that impressive. We did everything we could possibly do there. Not only did we complete the excruciating climb to the top of the tower, but we made the whole trip (up, sight-seeing, and back down) in under 30 minutes. We had to, because there were so many masses happening in the Dom on the Saturday before Easter. We also heard mass on Good Friday, which was an absolutely beautiful, intense and moving experience.
I don’t want to fool you; our trip wasn’t all exercise and holiness. On our first night, we had dinner at a great tapas place. We ate at the bar and talked to the bartender, while we enjoyed a spread that included fried calamari, mussels with white wine and garlic, goat cheese with honey and almonds, garlic bread with aioli, fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce, a honey chicken skewer and garlic shrimp. It was SO delicious. Our bartender was a friendly guy. He had tattooed sleeves, and Amanda pointed out that she hadn’t seen many tattoos in Germany. I had to agree that it seemed much more common in the US. When she asked the bartender about it, we learned that he was also a tattoo artist. (So that explains it.) He claimed to have some gruesome body modification stories, but he wouldn’t share them with us. Blast. When we asked him where we should go out later that night. His response: “Tonight? Nowhere. After sundown, the whole city will shutdown. There will be no music, dancing or drinking, because it’s Maundy Thursday.” I had not thought about how seriously Catholic Cologne is, but still, I had never of such a thing. In my defense, Freiburg was also “Catholic,” but nothing ever stopped a party there. #Tripplannerguilt
Luckily, we were pretty tired, so we just headed back to our most excellent hotel- Centrum Hotel Leonet. For the same price as a Jugendhotel (like where we stayed in Dresden and Berlin), we got a nice hotel room with free WiFi, free breakfast and even amenities. The hotel is in the Altstadt part of Cologne, which is safe and has good access to public transportation, restaurants, bars, shopping and the gay-friendly neighborhood. Props to Amanda for finding this place!
The next day, we headed to Museum Ludwig. The Museum Ludwig is a modern and contemporary art museum more or less right next to the cathedral. The museum has a large Picasso collection, so I had to go. Luckily, Amanda was willing. The Chocolate Museum was next on our list. We had had high hopes, but it you could probably skip it. We also did some walking around and stumbled across some more interesting buildings, churches and sights. My favorite from this stroll was the Karneval-themed fountain. Damme may have the largest Karneval in Northern Germany, but Cologne has the largest one in the whole country. They live for it. This fountain was a memorial to someone who had been an active Narr, and featured a boat filled with drunken musicians. You knew they were drunk because none of them was playing his instrument correctly. An added bonus: the joints on the figures moved! Dr. Hefeweizen, take note: when I die, I would like a fountain featuring drunken, moveable figures. The fountain should also be imprinted with the lyrics to a silly song. That is all.
After the museum and the walk, we had to have some traditional German eats, so we headed to a Cologne institution: Früh Kölsch. Früh Kölsch is a Kölsch brewery and restaurant. Kölsch is a special sort of beer only brewed in Cologne. It is served in a tall, thin, .2 liter glass called a Stange, is very effervescent, and has a light, clean taste. Servers carry racks of filled glasses around and just keep giving you more until you tell them to stop. A new glass earns you a tally mark on your coaster. When you are ready to pay, they count your tallies and multiply. It is a clever system, but be careful: since the glasses are so small, it is easy to miscalculate how much you’ve drunk. Once you stand up, however, it will become abundantly clear.
Früh is not the only maker of Kölsch. It is not even my favorite. I find the flavor very yeasty. Sion, Gaffel, Dom are some others; Dom is my personal favorite Kölsch. Früh is the Hofbräuhaus of Cologne: touristy, slightly over-priced and heavy, “German” (read: what everyone thinks is German) food. Still, if want the typical Cologne experience, I feel a trip to Früh is in order. I also wanted to hit up Früh because there was one thing I needed to cross off of my to-eat-while-in-Germany list: blood sausage. I knew they had it there with the dish called “Himmel und Aard” in the Kölsch dialect, which is “Himmel und Erde” in High German, or “Heaven and Earth” in English. It’s is mashed potatoes and apples, topped with fried onions and a blood sausage. Amanda went for a sausage with potato salad. The result? We were both disappointed. Her meal was a glorified hot dog, and despite what everyone says, blood sausage was not that tasty. I’m willing to give it a go somewhere else, but I am going to need a long mental recovery time on this one. Maybe a trip to Früh Kölsch isn’t necessary after all. Früh Kölsch: 1, Heidi and Amanda: 0.
As we left Köln, we quickly learned that there was a soccer game that day. Werder Bremen vs. FC Köln. The train station was crawling with men, who, despite being completely hammered, were friendly and generally upbeat. We saw some Bremen fans singing on the steps of the Cathedral on our way into the station. As the Köln fans circled around them, I was certain we were about to witness a serious altercation. Instead, the Köln fans just tried to sing their own song louder than the Bremen song. Whew. Way to keep it clean, guys.
- Hotel Centrum Leonet: great hotel!
- Museum Ludwig: Picasso, Matisse, and many more!
- La Bodega: tapas bar with excellent food, good beer, good drink specials, great lighting and friendly service.
- Früh Kölsch/Früh am Dom: Food is not great, but they have a very nice outdoor space right on the Cathedral Square.
- Kölner Dom/Cologne Cathedral: worth a visit